US restricts visas for Uganda, Zimbabwe officials, citing repression

By Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Monday expanded a visa restriction policy on Ugandan officials to include those it believes are responsible for undermining democracy and repressing marginalized groups in Uganda, while also announcing a new visa restriction policy for officials in Zimbabwe.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the visa restrictions and mentioned, among others, the marginalization of groups like the LGBT community in Uganda and civil society advocates in Zimbabwe. Blinken’s statements did not name any official.

Uganda’s anti-LGBTQ law, considered one of the harshest in the world, was enacted in May and carries the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” an offence that includes transmitting HIV through gay sex.

In June, the U.S. State Department imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials after the passage of the law. The State Department also previously put visa restrictions on Ugandan officials following the country’s 2021 elections, which it called “flawed.”

“Today, I am announcing the expansion of the visa restriction policy to include current or former Ugandan officials or others who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda or for policies or actions aimed at repressing members of marginalized or vulnerable populations,” Blinken said on Monday.

“These groups include, but are not limited to, environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, LGBTQI+ persons, and civil society organizers.”

Blinken also announced a new visa restriction policy for those he said were undermining democracy in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa won a second term in a disputed vote in August, which the opposition described as a “gigantic fraud” amid criticism from election observers who say the election failed to meet regional and international standards.

“Anyone who undermines the democratic process in Zimbabwe – including in the lead-up to, during, and following Zimbabwe’s August 2023 elections – may be found ineligible for U.S. visas under this policy,” Blinken said.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler and Sandra Maler)